This Is Why We Eat, Drink, and Make Merry on Purim
While the events of Chanukah were principally a threat to our spiritual survival, Purim recalls a threat to the physical existence of the Jewish people. Haman attempted to physically destroy every Jewish man, woman, and child. We celebrate our deliverance from this threat with mitzvot that focus on the physical. We give money to the poor and gifts of food to our friends; we eat a festive meal and drink wine.
Giving gifts to one another also promotes unity among the Jewish people. When first proposing his evil plot to Achashverosh, Haman described the Jewish people as a “scattered and dispersed nation.” He did not mean only that we were geographically dispersed, but that we were not unified, and thus would be easy prey for our enemies. (On a spiritual level, we also understand this to mean that when the Jewish people are disunited, God does not protect them fully. National unity brings about spiritual wholeness and closeness to God.)
To counteract this situation, the Sages decreed that we must be concerned with the welfare and friendship of our fellow Jews. We strengthen Jewish unity by giving gifts to the poor, food to our friends, and by celebrating together with festive meals.
Excerpted from Gateway to Judaism by Rabbi Mordechai Becher; Mesorah Publications Ltd.